I have a new author’s website:  arikelman.org.  All are welcome.

MuppetIt’s moving day at EotAW. After calling WordPress our home for the past four years, we’re shifting to more academic-specific digs: the Chronicle of Higher Education. They’ve asked us to become part of their Blog Network, along with luminaries like the Tenured Radical, and who are we to refuse such esteemed company? Nobody, that’s who.

The new Edge is at:

http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/edgeofthewest/

Come on by. Check out the new place. Grab a beer. We promise the same skewed but deeply historical view of the world, full of disappointment and Muppets.

Lots of Muppets.

The New York Times, April 28, 2012:

Presidents running for re-election typically boast of programs they created, people they helped or laws they signed. They talk about rising test scores or falling deficits or expanding job rolls. President Obama is increasingly taking the unusual route of bragging about how he killed a man.

To be sure, that man was Osama bin Laden, and he is not mourned among either the president’s supporters or detractors. But in the days leading up to the first anniversary of the raid that finally caught up to the Qaeda mastermind, Mr. Obama has made a concerted, if to some indecorous, effort to trumpet the killing as perhaps the central accomplishment of his presidency.

The article does nod to previous Presidents running on their toughness, but then goes completely off the rails when talking about a recent Obama interview in the Situation Room:

Tony Fratto, a deputy press secretary under Mr. Bush, said that it was “unseemly” to use the room for such a purpose. “I don’t believe it ever would have occurred to us to conduct an interview in the Situation Room,” he said, “and don’t believe we would have considered it appropriate.”

Mr. Fratto (and Times), I give you the USS Abraham Lincoln from the New York Times, May 16, 2003:

George W. Bush’s ”Top Gun” landing on the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln will be remembered as one of the most audacious moments of presidential theater in American history. But it was only the latest example of how the Bush administration, going far beyond the foundations in stagecraft set by the Reagan White House, is using the powers of television and technology to promote a presidency like never before.

Officials of past Democratic and Republican administrations marvel at how the White House does not seem to miss an opportunity to showcase Mr. Bush in dramatic and perfectly lighted settings.

Media strategists noted afterward that Mr. Sforza and his aides had choreographed every aspect of the event, even down to the members of the Lincoln crew arrayed in coordinated shirt colors over Mr. Bush’s right shoulder and the ”Mission Accomplished” banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call ”magic hour light,” which cast a golden glow on Mr. Bush.

Oh, and:

The New York Times, June 21, 2004:

The story of how President George W. Bush ended up with Saddam Hussein’s pistol mounted in his private study off the Oval Office has dribbled out in the last few weeks, and it is a good one.

In that context, Saddam’s pistol is a bookend of sorts, the prize of a president who viewed the badge as reason for waging two wars.

To the Delta Force that brought it back, the gun is a piece of history representing nothing less than mission complete. “These kinds of experiences you only have a few times in your life, and they’re very powerful,” said Major General David Grange, a retired commander in the Delta Force during the Gulf War. “It’s ‘Sir, we got him.”‘

As to whether Bush will ever give the gun to the Iraqis, he didn’t say.

Politics was so much more dignified in the Bush administration.

The intersection of 195th Street and 58th Avenue, Queens, NY, in 1941:

N20 bpq07376

And today:

It’s not always the victors writing the history, in this case, or the historical markers:

On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 negroes were slain. This event on April 13, 1873, marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South. Marker is at the intersection of Main Street (Louisiana Route 8) and 2nd Street (Louisiana Route 8) on Main Street.

Or maybe it was the victors writing, sadly enough.

At any rate, those Confederates were writing markers all over the place.
From the Gettysburg battlefield:

Photo59165

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to detect where the above writer’s Confederate sympathies crept out.

We had a discussion about ship naming in the thread on the USS Lyndon Baines Johnson and I thought I would post a link to this lovely article by the Naval Historical Center, which pulls in (among others) Alfred the Great:

As if to emphasize the ties that many Americans still felt to Britain, the first ship of the new Continental Navy was named Alfred in honor of Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex who is credited with building the first English naval force. Another ship was named Raleigh to commemorate the seagoing exploits of Sir Walter Raleigh. Some ships honored early patriots and heroes (Hancock and General Greene). Others commemorated the young nation’s ideals and institutions (Constitution, Independence, Congress). A 74-gun ship-of-the-line, launched in 1782 and donated to the French Navy on completion, was named America. A Revolutionary War frigate named Bourbon saluted the King of France, whose alliance would further the cause of American independence. Other ship names honored American places (Boston, Virginia). Small warships– brigs and schooners–bore a variety of names. Some were named for positive character traits (Enterprise, Diligent). Others had classical names (Syren, Argus) or names of small creatures with a potent sting (Hornet, Wasp).

Still hoping for a USS Ethelred the Unready.

RIP Levon Helm, who was not only of course the voice of The Band, but also of The Right Stuff, the voice warning softly,

There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die. Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate. The demon lived at Mach 1 on the meter, seven hundred and fifty miles an hour, where the air could no longer move out of the way. He lived behind a barrier through which they said no man could ever pass. They called it the sound barrier.

Helm also played Ridley, the trusted friend of Chuck Yeager, as depicted by Sam Shepard. I thought it was a kind of subversive genius, casting those two countercultural Dylan-associated types as these otherwise strait-laced American heroes.

As Pierce says, and as seems appropriate in this particular sidelight on Helm’s career, Godspeed.

P1 BF789 PORTRA DV 20120416165217I couldn’t resist the scare quotes, sorry. A source may be a source, or it might be a practical joke:

The portrait of “Ensign Chuck Hord,” framed in the heavy gilt typical of government offices, may be the greatest—or perhaps only—prank in Pentagon art history. “Chuck Hord” can’t be found in Navy records of the day. It isn’t even a real painting. The textured, 30-year-old photo is actually of Capt. Eldridge Hord III, 53 years old, known to friends as “Tuck,” a military retiree with a beer belly and graying hair who lives in Burke, Va.

Even as I write, someone’s dissertation on the semiotics of paintings in the Pentagon is having a chapter revised, I’m sure.

Following up to this article, the Navy has continued its streak of not naming carriers after Democratic Presidents. LBJ now has a ship named after him, but a destroyer, rather than a carrier:

The Navy has named the third ship in its class of state-of-the-art destroyers after the late President Lyndon B. Johnson, who served as a naval officer during World War II, the service said in a press release Monday.

“I am pleased to honor President Johnson with the naming of this ship,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement. “His dedication to a life of public service included bravely stepping forward to fight for his country during our entry into World War II.”

No word on whether the ship would have a tendency to report attacks by imaginary torpedo boats, but some folks have been unable to avoid the sniggering locker room humor that the name might inspire:

That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to ever name a Zumwalt destroyer the JOHNSON. Only Ray Mabus [Secretary of the Navy] is apparently so tone deaf as to not see the irony that during April 2012 – also known as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the Navy – that the 18-22 year old enlisted sailors are going to almost certainly come up with some highly creative (and crude) JOHNSON jokes. OK, so the silver lining is that at least we won’t have a JOHNSON STRIKE GROUP in the Navy, but when a ship’s most prominent feature is often described as 6″ or 155mm, JOHNSON doesn’t quite strike me as the appropriate name.

I’m sure the person was concern-blogging about the USS George HW Bush when it was named.

The only remaining recent Presidents without ships named for them are now Nixon, Clinton, and Shrub. Nixon’s unlikely to get one, which means that naming the next carrier is going to be an interesting decision. My guess? They name it the Enterprise and push back the controversy.

Did anyone notice that Steve Rogers’s politics are basically those of PM?

Canada and Denmark, finding a way to avoid war:

The National Post has learned that Canada and Denmark are apparently this close to hammering out a deal over Hans Island, the vitally important strategic chokepoint that has kept these two warrior nations on the brink of mutual annihilation for the last eight years. With a little luck and perhaps some Annan-style shuttle diplomacy, our long national nightmare might soon be over.

The plan is brilliant for its simplicity. There will be no exchange of atomic energy monitors, no prisoner swaps, and no gradual pullbacks to the positions the countries held on the first day of the costly conflict. Neither side will have to disarm its military forces or surrender commanders for war crimes trials. Instead, the deal under discussion between Ottawa and Copenhagen would take Hans Island, a rock roughly a square kilometre in size and — get this — simply divide it in half.

Always good to see diplomacy triumph, especially over such a strategically vital piece of land. One observer described it as “little more than an upsized decorative stone of the sort intentionally landscaped into homeowners’ gardens. The thing seems almost as if it is trying to look boring.”

Well, so there, then.

When you teach a survey course, you make choices about what to emphasize, what to leave out and what your narrative or analytical through-line for the course will be. For example, for the introduction to US history since 1865, I emphasize the relation between sectionalism and the growth of federal power.

But for lecture you can’t just do a piece of that analytical narrative every time – that would be monotonous. So to change pace and liven things up, you have certain stories you like to tell, even if they slow the insistent forward motion of survey lectures. You say, maybe, here’s a story that helps to illustrate the themes I’ve been laying out; something with a little finer grain to let us see how these issues play out in individual lives.

For example, I use the murder of William McKinley (not surprising, I suppose), the Warren Court and the Brown case; Robert F. Kennedy’s appearance in Indianapolis in 1968.

What are your favorite drop-in stories and why?

Kevin Drum reads Rachel Maddow’s Drift and basically loses (as she seems to, though I have not read the book) American history before 1945:

So what’s different? I’d say this: it’s one thing to periodically wage brief, smallish military actions. The Dominican Republic occupation of 1965 falls into that category. So do Grenada and Panama. Without getting into the merits of any of these actions, you can at least say that they were limited and isolated.

But the last couple of decades seem quite different. The Gulf War, followed by Somalia, followed by Haiti, followed by Kosovo, followed by Afghanistan, followed by Iraq, followed by Libya and Yemen, and all against a background of drone warfare that now seems all but perpetual, feels very different. It feels like we’re simply in a constant state of military action. In the last 20 years, there have only been three or four in which the U.S. military wasn’t at war. (And I’m not even sure about the three or four.)

So I think that’s a real difference, and the policy drift that Maddow talks about in her book bears a big part of the blame for this.

Oof. I’m not sure I would categorize the 1965 Dominican Republic occupation “limited and isolated” when it came at the moment that the United States was ramping up its effort in Vietnam.

But in any case, Drum’s comment throws overboard anything before World War II. I note this list of American interventions or occupations in Latin America from the period 1898 to the present. From 1898 to 1933, the United States was nearly continuously at war or in occupation of a range of states in the southern hemisphere. Far from “periodically wag[ing] brief, smallish military actions” the United States has throughout most of its history tended to fight a range of simultaneous military actions. Wikipedia conveniently has a list of American military operations in chronological order and I didn’t spot a single year of American history missing in action. I should say, perhaps, missing from action.

Some press reactions to the Reynoso report below.

Obviously as one of the report’s authors, I don’t have much of substance to say; I think the thing speaks for itself. Some people seem disappointed that the report didn’t call for anyone’s head. The task force was specifically charged not to recommend disciplinary action, just to assign responsibility. It’s up to the university and community to do something with it.

Sacramento Bee: UC Davis pepper spray debacle belongs to Katehi

San Francisco Chronicle: UC Davis’ failure of leadership

Los Angeles Times: Pepper spray report sharply criticizes UC Davis leaders, police

NPR’s The Two-Way: Report Faults UC Davis Administrators, Police In Pepper Spray Incident

Kansas City Star: CA university slammed for pepper-spraying students

News10: Task force releases report on UC Davis pepper spray incident

For those with an interest in the findings of the commission on the UC Davis pepper-spray incident of November 18, 2011, the report is now available.

The past isn’t even past, and it’s still quite explosive:

Luftbilddatenbank, based on the top floor of Carls’ home just outside Würzburg in the southern state of Bavaria, specializes in finding bombs using old aerial photos. In the last five years, the company has digitized hundreds of thousands of images, developing a database of geographical coordinates and archival reference points that let them request photos of specific locations from collections of wartime photos in Washington, DC, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

Followup to this, and h/t to Jonathan Beard.

As a follow-up to this post, I note this:

The Air Force has more drones and more sensors collecting more data than it has humans to interpret what the electronic tea leaves say. The glut of all that video and still imagery is “unsustainable,” says the Air Force’s top civilian — but it’ll be “years” before the Air Force digs its way out of it.

As the article points out, there are various levels of processing needed. There’s a need for an immediate triage of imagery for time-sensitive operations. If an American unit’s under attack, the imagery that might help them can’t go in the normal processing queue. But there’s also the general processing, that might yield information useful over the medium or long term.

More computers, please.

Sara Robinson asks of Rick Santorum’s false claims about the UC and US history, “Did Rick Santorum just declare the next right-wing crusade?”

The thing to remember is this: Even though right-wing narratives are often factually wrong, they are absolutely never content-free. Stories like this are always about something. And the weirder and more factually challenged they sound to liberal ears, the more important it probably is for us to know what that something is.… This is almost always a clear sign that conservatives are lining up their artillery — in this case, for an open assault on America’s public colleges and universities.

The thing is, the artillery have already been lined up and firing for years. The UC has already been drastically cut. Student tuition and fees are, notoriously, “hella high” – and rising. There’s no sense in which this is the “next” crusade. It’s ongoing.

On taking office in March 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the dollar off the gold standard. At his first press conference he was cagey about his actions, noting that the US still qualified as a gold standard country in some respects, though noting implicitly that it did not in others, and he stated further, “In other words, what you are coming to now really is a managed currency, the adequateness of which will depend on the conditions of the moment. It may expand one week and it may contract another week. That part is all off the record.” Asked if this were temporary or permanent, he replied, “It ought to be part of the permanent system [-] that is off the record – it ought to be part of the permanent system, so we don’t run into this thing again …”

Within a month or so these off-the-record comments became common understanding: the US gold standard was over. Americans had to turn in their gold in exchange for paper dollars. The dollar fell in value on international exchanges from its previously fixed value of $20.67 to an ounce of gold, and eventually, under the Gold Reserve Act of January 1934, settled legally – for the purposes of international exchange only – at $35 to an ounce.

On June 7, 1934, Harry Dexter White, then a professor at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, received an invitation from Jacob Viner to work on the US Treasury’s “comprehensive survey of our monetary and banking legislation and institutions.” White accepted and in about three months wrote a report on monetary standards, examining the possibilities of various options and making recommendations.

White said the US faced a choice between a gold standard and a managed currency – i.e., between fixed and flexible exchange rates. A gold standard, he said, would be better for trade – stable exchange rates allowed traders to make contracts across borders with greater confidence. But, he said, any increased trade would be more than offset by the bad effects of a gold standard in an economic crisis, when capital would flee the country, obliging the government to tighten monetary policy so the dollar could remain on gold – thus making the crisis worse. Meanwhile, White said, a managed currency would give the US greater independence in its monetary policy (it wouldn’t be tied to every other country on gold) and would permit a domestic policy aimed at a stable cost of living.

You might think White could rest there having made the cast for a flexible exchange rate. But he went on: Read the rest of this entry »

The Transportation Security Agency, in all its glory:

A spokesman said the agency has its reasons for still requiring that traditional laptops go through X-ray machines in a separate bin. But he declined to share them, saying the agency didn’t want to betray any secrets.

There are reasons, BUT WE CANNOT TELL THEM TO YOU OR THE TERRORISTS WIN.

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